The average artist in the UK earns just £10,000 a year. So Eddy Frankel spoke to some established artists to find out how they manage to survive in London in 2016.
Sophie Michael Video and photographic artist who currently has a show at Tate Britain
‘I live and work in a house in South Woodford with my boyfriend Andrew Munks, who’s also an artist. We couldn’t afford separate studios and rent, so we looked for place together and luckily found this house. It was in such a bad state that they couldn’t rent it, so we said okay, lower the rent and we’ll do it up. We ripped up all the carpets because they were infested with all kinds of things and the walls were smoke stained. Every year it’s nailbiting when we have to renew our contract: we’re screwed if they kick us out because we’re so reliant on it. We’d never find anywhere with this amount of space. We’d have to move out of London. I show my work with a really good gallery and I’ve got an exhibition at Tate Britain, but I still have to do other jobs. I work for a small 16mm film hire business, and I’ve just finished doing a year of children’s art workshops, so I’m on the hunt for a new job. I can’t imagine a time when I’ll be solely living off my work.
It’s what artists talk about all the time. Perhaps even more than they talk about art, they talk about how they’re going to pay next month’s rent, where they’ll to move to if they get thrown out. People get so exhausted by the situation that they lose the will and the energy to make art.
It’s especially hard to make art in London at this particular point in time. I’d love to leave so I didn’t have to worry about this every day. But if you move out of London it’s very difficult to make people remember that you exist, and artists rely on having each other around for support.
Making art in London just isn’t sustainable right now. I have friends who are in their forties and fifties who are in exactly the same position: still struggling to pay rates, still juggling a million jobs on top of their practice. Maybe the problem isn’t generational, or how long you’ve been at it; maybe the problem is London.’
Adham Faramawy Video, installation, performance and digital artist
‘It wasn’t until my very late twenties that I could stop working subsidiary jobs to support my art. I broke lot of laws in my mid-twenties. Straight out of college I started a collective and we squatted buildings in Peckham. We found a way to consolidate the support networks that we’d developed while studying so we could carry on making work without getting crummy jobs.
Then, the only way I could afford to live was because I was assisting an incredible sculptor called Anya Gallacio, and she and her wife Kelly let me move into their house, so I was able to afford to stay in the city while keeping a very small studio. What happens when people like her leave? There’s no one here to nurture the next generation.
It’s a challenge to be an artist in London, for sure. It’s clear within my network of friends that a great number of artists have left the city. It’s terrifying! If they go, who’s there to help each other?
But you have to be close to the systems and institutions that fund you. Proximity to the capital is necessary. I’m a Londoner, and I still love this city, I still feel part of it, but I am really aware that I’m being pushed out, and there’s very little I can do about it. There’s a great deal of creativity happening in London: isn’t that what people come here for?’
Thomson and Craighead Pioneering, techonology-obsessed duo who both teach at art schools
‘In the end, you make your own career. When we left art school in the ’90s, selling art wasn’t even in our minds.
In the early days we’d apply to get money to make new work through the Arts Council or open submission exhibitions . There were lots of knock backs, one in ten was a good hit rate. These days we’re lucky enough that people commission us, but that’s come through being around for a long time!
We teach at art schools – the Slade and Goldsmiths – and that provides a basic income. It means we never we have to compromise to make money. For students graduating now, it’s way harder. Structural things in our country have changed: housing benefit, self-employment, student debt. Public arts funding is diminishing year-on-year too.
If you do a degree now it’s easy to come out with close to £80,000 of debt. Artists now can only make the work they want to make if they have enough money. So there’s a much narrower group of people who are able to make art. We’re not bashing people, we just think everyone should have an equal chance.
So many more students now are seeking help for their anxiety: they just get stressed out by debt and financial pressure. UK universities don’t yet have much in the way of endowments or scholarships like those in America, we just have the fees. To see all possible means of support vanishing impoverishes our culture and society. It impoverishes the whole city, really.’